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PPC for Beginners: The Ultimate Pay-Per-Click Guide for 2023

Discover the power of PPC with our beginner’s handbook. Learn what PPC is and how pay-per-click advertising can boost your online presence. Get started today!

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PPC for Beginners: The Ultimate Pay-Per-Click Guide for 2023
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The digital marketing landscape is jam-packed with acronyms and abbreviations, but few are as prevalent as PPC, the shorthand phrase for pay-per-click advertising.

PPC has become the gold standard for businesses of all sizes to advertise their services, reach new customers, and drive website traffic.

The only question is, what is PPC — and how do you get started?

While PPC is undoubtedly the most common form of advertising across search engines like Google and social media networks like Facebook, there is a bit of a learning curve for those new to paid media.

Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place to learn what PPC is and how pay-per-click advertising can boost your online presence. Let’s get started with this beginner’s handbook!

Main Takeaways:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a type of online marketing in which an advertiser pays a fee each time a user clicks on an ad.
  • Digital marketers leverage PPC advertising to drive online traffic, new leads, and brand awareness to a business website.
  • A pay-per-click (PPC) ad is a subset of paid media that can be classified as a paid search, paid social, or display ad.
  • Successful PPC campaigns rely on established advertising goals, defined target audiences, and relevant keyword research.
  • Marketers must monitor PPC campaign metrics, like cost-per-click (CPC) and click-through rate (CTR), to optimize for success.

What Is PPC and How Does It Work?

Let’s start with the basics: What is PPC?

Pay-per-click (PPC) is an online advertising model in which marketers pay a fee each time a user clicks on one of their ads. PPC ads can be found across several different ad platforms on the digital marketing landscape, including search engines and social media networks. Each of these platforms offers various ad formats, such as search ads or display ads.

So, how does PPC advertising work? PPC advertising allows marketers to create ad campaigns that target specific demographics, locations, and consumer interests. Marketers then bid on the specific keywords or phrases they want these ads to appear for on search engine results pages (SERPs) and ad spaces on related websites. Once a marketer sets the maximum cost they are willing to pay for each ad click, the ad goes into an auction with other advertisers who bid on the same keywords.

The ad auction uses a complex algorithm of ad quality, relevancy, and bid amount to determine the order in which ads are shown. For instance, when a user searches for one of a marketer’s bid-upon keywords or phrases, the highest bid will appear at the top of the SERP as a search ad. The marketer pays a fee each time a user clicks on the ad, up to the amount of the maximum cost set at auction.

PPC is the most popular online advertising model, with 79% of brands claiming it’s a massive driver for their business. This popularity is partly due to the positive return on investment (ROI), which reached an average of $2 for every $1 spent in 2022. Combined with the fact that paid ads can improve brand awareness by 80%, it’s no secret why today’s businesses — particularly software as a service (SaaS) organizations — prefer the benefits of PPC advertising over alternative channels!

Benefits of PPC Advertising

Now that you have a solid understanding of PPC ads and how they work, let’s take a look at how PPC helps companies across various industries achieve growth and success. In this section, we’ll explore some of the most significant benefits of leveraging PPC in your company’s digital marketing strategy.

PPC Ads Can Be Highly Targeted 

Paid ads allow you to target customers with specific interests, demographics, locations, and even devices used. Advanced targeting enables you to connect with buyers with the highest propensity to convert. For brands with large target audiences, such as SaaS businesses, hyper-specific targeting makes your brand more recognizable within your niche.

PPC Ads Produce Measurable Results With Greater Control

Unlike organic efforts, such as search engine optimization (SEO), paid media can drive traffic to a website almost immediately. Once your PPC ad is live (most are approved and placed online on the same day), you can monitor performance in real-time. You can even assess the ROI of specific keywords and campaigns at a granular level.

PPC Ads Can Inform and Improve Other Marketing Efforts

Paid media like PPC ads are less volatile to the algorithm updates that can impact other marketing initiatives, like SEO, and can rank despite a low domain rating. Even better, the data captured from your PPC ad campaigns can enhance search engine marketing efforts, especially the keywords gleaned for SEO optimizations.

Paid Media vs. PPC vs. Paid Search & Paid Social

Now that we’ve breached the common question of “What is PPC,” we can move along to the more complex components of paid advertising. When we discuss PPC, it’s nearly impossible to avoid mentioning paid media, paid search, and paid social. More often than not, these terms are even used interchangeably. Let’s review each of these types of advertising to understand the principles.

Paid Media Ads

When learning the ropes of pay-per-click advertising, it’s best to begin with a basic understanding of paid media. Paid media is the larger umbrella term for advertising and marketing initiatives backed by a budget, such as sponsored social media posts, video advertisements, and, of course, paid search results. Paid media helps to expand brand reach and generate more website traffic.

While subtle differences exist between the various types of paid media across different ad platforms, each shares the same core principles. With paid media, an advertiser bids on a specific keyword or phrase in an ad auction. Then, an advertiser pays a fee for ad placement or ad space on an ad network, such as the Google Display Network or Google search engine results pages.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ads

Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are a type of paid media in which an advertiser pays a fee each time a user clicks on an ad. While all PPC ads are paid media ads, not all paid media ads are PPC ads. This is because PPC refers to the payment method of the online advertising model (literally, pay per click). There are tons of advertising platforms for PPC ad placement, but the most common include the following:

Google Ads

Google Ads offers ad placement across Google’s SERPs and other Google properties, including YouTube, Google Maps, and Display Network partner websites. Common examples of these ads include text ads on Google SERPs, image ads that appear on websites in Google’s display network, and product listing ads that appear in Google Shopping results.

Microsoft Advertising

Microsoft Advertising offers ad placement across the Bing Search Network, including search engines like Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, and other Microsoft properties like MSN and Outlook. Common examples of these ads include text ads on Bing SERPs, Bing shopping ads, and audience ads displayed on Bing’s partner websites.

Meta Ads

Meta Ads offers ad placement across Meta-owned social media networks, including Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. Meta ads can be created in a variety of formats, including single images, videos, interactive 3D previews, and image carousels. 

Paid Search & Paid Social Ads

Paid search and paid social advertisements are both subsets of pay-per-click advertising that refer to the ads' placement. As the names might suggest, paid search ads end up on the top of search engine results pages, like Google search or Bing search, whereas paid social ads are placed in the news feeds of users’ social media networks, such as Facebook or Instagram.

  • Paid search ads appear above organic search results on search engines like the Google Search Network and Microsoft Advertising (Bing Ads).
  • Paid social media ads appear across networks like Meta Ads (Facebook and Instagram), LinkedIn Ads, Twitter Ads, and TikTok Ads.

Getting Started With PPC Advertising

As the online advertising model with the most specific targeting and manageable performance, it’s no wonder why so many businesses are searching for how to create campaigns for PPC.

Like most advertising initiatives, you can create ads on your own or outsource creation and management to a reliable digital marketing agency (don’t worry, we’ll also cover how to choose a PPC agency soon).

If you’re looking for guidance on how to get started with PPC advertising, look no further. We’ve broken it down into eight simple steps to help you develop a winning PPC strategy.

  1. Establish your campaign goals
  2. Decide on your PPC budget
  3. Choose your campaign type and channel
  4. Perform keyword research for PPC
  5. Set up your campaign and ad groups
  6. Define and segment your audience
  7. Create and launch your ad
  8. Set up your campaign tracking

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps and what they involve.

1. Establish Your Campaign Goals

Before getting started, it’s imperative to determine what you want to achieve with your PPC campaign, such as boosting website traffic or driving new leads. Without knowing your objectives at the start of the campaign, tracking progress and measuring success can be difficult. So, establish campaign goals and define the related key performance indicators (KPIs) for each first.

At this stage, asking yourself the most important metrics in your business and which elements of your operations you want to support with your pay-per-click advertising is often the most helpful. For instance, a SaaS business that provides field service management software may want to increase its monthly subscribers, which can be measured via monthly recurring revenue (MRR).

Typical PPC campaign goals and related KPIs include but are not limited to the following:

  • Brand awareness campaigns: The main goal of awareness campaigns is to increase the visibility of your brand and product or service offering. Awareness campaigns are used to develop strong brand recognition rather than to drive immediate conversions. These campaigns are often measured with metrics like impressions, reach, frequency, and click-through rate.
  • Lead generation campaigns: Lead gen campaigns are used to collect information from potential customers to utilize in your marketing in sales efforts. Most commonly, these campaigns involve users signing up for email newsletters, filling out a contact form, or downloading a free resource. The success of your lead generation campaign can be measured in several ways, including the lead volume, cost-per-lead, lead conversion rate, and the overall quality of leads.
  • Conversion campaigns: Conversion campaigns focus on, you guessed it, encouraging conversions. Examples of conversions include persuading the user to make a purchase, book a product demo, sign up for a trial, or subscribe to a service. The performance of your conversion campaigns can be measured by the conversion rate, cost per conversion, and return on ad spend. 
  • Retargeting (remarketing) campaigns: Retargeting campaigns are used to reach users that have previously interacted with your brand through your website, social media, or other marketing channels but didn’t convert. For example, a user might visit your website and leave without making a purchase. This user might later be scrolling through their Facebook feed, see a retargeting ad, and return to your website to make a purchase. These campaigns are commonly measured through conversion rate, click-through rate, cost-per-click, and return on ad spend.

2. Decide On Your PPC Budget

Once your PPC goals are established, it’s time to set your campaign budget. The costs associated with a PPC budget can vary depending on factors like your industry or chosen ad network (such as Google Ads versus Bing ads). While PPC budgets can vary dramatically, most small and mid-sized businesses allocate $15,000 to $20,000 per month to PPC with an average cost-per-click of $2.59.

To get an idea of your general PPC budget, review forecasting data for your industry or related products and services to gauge how much other advertisers are paying for similar keywords. You can also review the average maximum bid for queries related to your business. If you’re in a more competitive niche, such as financial services, you can anticipate a higher ad spend on PPC ads.

To decide on a realistic PPC ad spend for your business, you can adopt a percentage of the sales budget (based on industry benchmarks) or a prior year's budget (based on a percentage of last year’s total sales). As you budget, account for PPC tools and software, which can range from $15 to $800 per month, and a potential PPC agency, which accounts for 12% to 30% of monthly ad spend.

3. Choose Your Campaign Type and Channel

With a realistic budget in mind, you can now select your desired campaign type and channel. The best tip for choosing an effective campaign type is to consider each channel’s demographics first. For instance, the higher median age and income of LinkedIn users may suit an accounting SaaS business. In contrast, the younger audience on TikTok is better suited for a funky fashion brand.

Take a look at the campaign types and channels available for PPC (and what makes each unique).

Search Ads

Search ads appear above organic search results on channels like the Google Search Network and Microsoft Advertising. When you select search ads as your campaign type, you can also incorporate ad extensions into your PPC ads. Ad extensions appear alongside your PPC ad to take up more room in SERPs and can include extra bits of information like product prices and customer reviews.

Search ads have many benefits, the primary being enhanced brand awareness from appearing in search results for queries related to your business, products, or services. This is a significant benefit for SaaS companies, particularly as search engines are the first place a SaaS customer will visit to locate solutions to a problem. Brand placement across SERPs also indicates industry expertise.

Display Ads

Display ads appear on third-party websites beyond search and social networks. Though technically a social network, display ads are also common on YouTube. Display ads incorporate videos, images, and text elements. The most common type of display ad is a banner ad, a rectangular display stretching across the top, bottom, or side of a web page. Another common display ad is a dynamic ad, which automatically generates personalized ad content based on a user’s behavioral data.

Social Media Ads

Social media ads appear on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Depending on your chosen social channel, there are several campaign types for social media ads. For instance, Facebook and Instagram feature shoppable advertisements enabling users to add an item to their cart and checkout without ever leaving the platform. Ad placement on Twitter and LinkedIn is more straightforward but still includes multimedia elements like videos and images.

Remarketing Ads

Remarketing or retargeting ads appear on third-party websites and social networks for users who have already visited your website. These ads help follow your customers as they move across the internet through first, second, and third-party data. First-party data refers to information you’ve earned directly through customer interactions. Examples include CRM data, e-mail subscribers, and previous customers, to name a few. Second-party data is sourced from another entity’s first-party data, and third-party data is purchased from data aggregators.

4. Perform Keyword Research for PPC

Now that you’ve settled on a campaign type and channel for your PPC ads, you can find relevant keywords to drive actual results. First, identify your target audience, including their demographics, pain points, and purchase habits. These details will help you narrow down the search queries and phrases in your keyword research related to your target audience’s current online behavior.

Next, consider the search intent behind your keyword research. Search intent refers to the reason behind each search, such as informational intent to learn more or transactional intent to make a purchase. For instance, a customer seeking a product solution might search for “software for lead management,” whereas a customer ready to convert may search for “Salesforce pricing.”

From here, take a look at your competitors to reveal keyword gaps and negative keywords. Keyword gaps refer to the high-performing queries your competitors use that you did not include in your keyword research. Negative keywords refer to terms that are similar but are not relevant or do have a conversion potential, so you prevent your PPC ads from showing for searches with that term.

If you’re setting up search ads, be sure to set match types to indicate variants for how keywords should trigger your PPC ads. For example, when setting up your Google Search Ads:

  • Broad match triggers ads for search terms that include misspellings, synonyms, and related searches.
  • Broad match modifiers trigger ads for search terms that include a + symbol before the selected phrase.
  • Phrase match triggers ads for searches that include additional words before or after the indicated keyword.
  • Exact match triggers ads for search terms that include the exact keyword or similar variants, such as pluralized terms.

5. Set Up Your Campaign and Ad Groups

Set up your campaigns based on how you want to track your goals or allocate your budget. You can set up a campaign for each goal; for example, if you are a monthly subscription service, you might set up one campaign to source new leads or enhance brand awareness and a second campaign to retarget previous subscribers.

With your campaigns decided, consider the ad groups that will sit within each campaign and contain your keywords, ad copy, and creative assets. It’s helpful to consider an ad group as a specific group of PPC ads that share similar targets or are triggered by similar keywords. The number of ad groups within each campaign will rely on your advertising goals and budget. Make sure you create your ad groups with your target audience in mind. For example, your retargeting creative assets wouldn't necessarily help you generate brand awareness; you will want to create a separate ad group for brand awareness.

6. Define and Segment Your Audience

With your ad groups decided, you can move on to the next step in establishing a successful PPC campaign, defining and segmenting your audience. Audience segmentation refers to the process of identifying subgroups within your target audience to deliver more personalized messages and build stronger connections. There are a few ways to segment your audience that align with PPC targeting.

Methods to segment your target audience to personalize your pay-per-click advertisements include the following:

  • Demographic-based targeting: Key characteristics like age, income level, and job type are various demographics you can use to identify relevant pain points and tailor your messaging.
  • Location-based targeting: Separating your target audience by geographic location enables you to focus on customers in a specific area, which is ideal for brick-and-mortar businesses.
  • Device-based targeting: Segmenting your target audience based on who browses the web on a mobile device versus a desktop computer helps optimize ad size and structure for each user.
  • Time-based targeting: Also referred to as ad scheduling, time-based segmentation allows you to schedule your PPC ads to run at a defined time or day of the week when users are active.

7. Create and Launch Your Ad

It’s finally time for the fun part: creating your PPC ads! First, draft your ad copy. Remember to review your keyword research to determine relevant keywords that can improve your ad rank and signal to your target audience that you understand their pain points. Use your ad copy to highlight your unique selling proposition (USP) or what sets your brand apart from competitors.

Most importantly, be sure to incorporate a clear call-to-action (CTA), such as ‘Sign Up’ or ‘Schedule a Demo,’ that aligns with your ad copy. Your CTA should make it obvious what you want a user to do, whether it’s to sign up for a free trial or schedule a demo with a sales associate. Creating multiple ad variations with a few different CTAs for A/B testing is beneficial to gauge which performs best.

As with any online advertisement, a PPC ad will direct users to whichever link you input during the creation process. It’s always best to direct traffic to a dedicated, well-designed landing page to encourage conversions. A well-designed landing page should be aesthetically simple and remove additional pathways to your website, such as a navigation menu, to direct focus to the page’s CTA.

8. Set Up Your Campaign Tracking

Let’s make this clear: Pay-per-click advertising is not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of deal. Instead, you will need to continuously monitor the performance of your campaigns and ad groups to ensure proper ad spend (and identify areas of improvement). Campaign tracking can be built into the platform depending on the channels you choose for PPC advertising, like social ads on Facebook.

Tactics to set up campaign tracking and monitor performance include PPC tools like the following:

  • Google Analytics to review real-time Google Ads performance metrics, such as campaign ad spend, audience engagement, and traffic and bounce rates on the related landing page.
  • Microsoft Advertising Campaigns hub to export detailed reports on a single advertisement, ad group, or entire campaign performance across the Microsoft Network.
  • Ads Manager to manage performance, track results, and measure the progress on advertising goals on the Meta-owned Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger Networks.
  • AdEspresso by Hootsuite is a third-party tool for tracking and measuring multiple campaign results, segmenting your audience, and automating A/B testing on PPC advertisements.
  • Adalysis is a third-party tool to gather campaign data from multiple channels in one place and automates the flagging of issues like budget limits or broken URL links.
  • Looker Studio (formerly known as Google Data Studio) is a free visualization tool that can be used to aggregate data and present it in a meaningful way for internal tracking and reporting.

Managing Your PPC Campaign

As we recently mentioned, pay-per-click marketing is not something you can set and forget. Managing your PPC marketing is integral to receiving a positive return on investment (ROI). By monitoring the KPIs you specified at the beginning of your efforts, you can gauge performance over time and identify roadblocks to conversions and areas of improvement that can drive a higher ROI.

Important PPC Metrics To Track

Between setting budgets and segmenting your audience, it can seem like there are a ton of moving pieces when creating and managing a PPC campaign. While it’s true that a successful PPC campaign will involve several elements, you won’t need to track all of them to gauge campaign performance over time. Instead, keep an eye on these eight PPC key performance indicators (KPIs).

  • Click-through rate (CTR) or the ratio of clicks on an ad link compared to the number of total users who viewed the ad.
  • Cost-per-click (CPC) or the amount of money you pay each time a user clicks one of your advertisements.
  • Ad Spend or the amount of money allocated to the PPC campaign.
  • Return on ad spend (ROAS) or the amount of revenue earned for each dollar spent on PPC advertising.
  • Conversion rate or the ratio of how many users completed the desired action compared to the total number of users who engaged with the ad.
  • Cost-per-conversion or the total cost of a PPC campaign divided by the total number of campaign conversions.
  • Quality score (QS) or how well your ad quality compares to other advertisers, based on factors like relevancy to the assigned keyword and the anticipated CTR.

PPC Management Best Practices

The above metrics are priceless for monitoring campaign performance, but data alone cannot optimize your PPC campaigns. In reality, it’s vital to allow the KPIs you've gathered for a single advertisement, ad group, or entire campaign to guide the management process for your PPC initiatives. As you begin to fine-tune campaign management, consider these best practices.

  • Assess and optimize all aspects of your PPC ads. Every element of your pay-per-click ad, including the imagery, ad copy, CTA, and landing page, must be optimized for conversion for ultimate ROI.
  • Thoroughly assess your keyword options. Beyond researching relevant keywords, excluding irrelevant but similar-sounding phrases with negative keywords is essential to avoid wasting ad spend on unrelated queries.
  • Ensure the ad and landing page go hand-in-hand. A landing page is an extension of an ad to promote a specific action. Your landing page is likely to blame if a PPC ad has a high CTR but minimal conversions.
  • Make bid adjustments when necessary. When it comes to your PPC budget, it’s best to start low and gradually increase your bid amounts as more data becomes available to help avoid overspending.
  • Retarget visitors to remain front of mind. Because most first-time visitors are typically browsing or seeking information, they might not take immediate action on your ad. Retarget these users to stretch your budget.

Hiring a PPC Agency

Before we hopped into the steps to start a PPC campaign, we briefly mentioned working with a reliable PPC agency to streamline ad creation, management, and optimization. Why work with a PPC agency? Well, much like a good SEO agency, a PPC agency is well-versed in the ins and outs of paid advertising, so you don’t have to learn the ropes! A PPC agency will do the leg work to:

  • Discover profitable keywords for your PPC campaigns.
  • Identify and segment your target audience for advanced targeting.
  • Locate the proper campaign channels and types for your audience.
  • Establish a realistic ad budget, which they can monitor for you.
  • Create various ad components, including ad copy and imagery.
  • Implement the proper campaign tracking for ultimate ROI.

When evaluating PPC agencies for your campaigns, consider how the paid media team aligns with your business goals. Does the agency have experience in your industry or vertical? Do they have case studies or testimonials that reflect reliable outcomes? To pick the right PPC agency for your needs, seek a company that will integrate into your workflow to become an extension of your team.

Unleash Your PPC Potential: Launch PPC Ads with Confidence

There’s a reason why 79% of brands list pay-per-click advertising as a huge driver for their business — it’s genuinely that impactful! PPC ads can not only enhance brand awareness and keep your business top of mind, but they can also drive leads and encourage sales among new and recurring customers alike. 

Fortunately, getting started with PPC ads with confidence has never been easier. The above steps to get started with paid media can help even the most novice advertiser launch a PPC campaign. 

If you need guidance along the way, partner with a trusted PPC agency. A reliable PPC agency like SimpleTiger can minimize your frustration and maximize your ROI, all while helping you create profitable pay-per-click campaigns that help you achieve your business goals.

Get in touch with SimpleTiger to begin launching and managing your own successful PPC ads!


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Ian Killgore
Ian Killgore
PPC Manager

Ian is a PPC Manager at SimpleTiger, responsible for creation, management, iteration, reporting, and optimization of PPC accounts, both paid and social for clients.

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